Kashmir saga

It is amusing as well as instructive to watch unionists Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti and separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq vie with each other in singing hosannas to former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
On June 23, 1987 Pakistan and India agreed in a joint statement at Islamabad to set up working groups on certain subjects, including Kashmir.

Prime minister Inder Gujral consulted then opposition leader Vajpayee who asked what work the working groups would do? Gujral marked the accord.

When officials met in New Delhi, for the first time after the BJP-led NDA government came to power, a deadlock ensued, especially on Siachen. From 1986 to 1998, there was accord that both sides would withdraw from the region. The issue was authentication of existing positions. When the defence secretaries met in New Delhi in 1998, India decided it would not withdraw.

The Lahore Declaration of Feb 21, 1999 issued by prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee raised hopes. They nominated emissaries to work a back channel on Kashmir. But Vajpayee’s choice of R.K. Mishra as his emissary belied his earnestness. Once editor of the pro-Communist daily Patriot he wormed his way into the councils, first of Indira Gandhi and then of Vajpayee. He had no experience in diplomacy.

Pakistan’s Niaz A. Naik was fixated on a partition of Kashmir along the Chenab river. India had rejected a similar proposal by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The dialogue was resumed at the summit level at Agra in July 2001. The idea came from L.K. Advani who wanted to size up Gen Pervez Musharraf. He was visibly disturbed as the declaration was being drafted. Advani wrecked the draft Agra Declaration.

In December 2001, Vajpayee summoned the service chiefs and asked them to prepare for war; but refused to give a written directive setting out the aims. This followed an attack on Parliament House in December 2001. Operation Parakram was called off on Oct 16, 2002 at a cost of Rs8,000 crores. One of India’s leading strategic analysts remarked: “India’s movement of troops towards the border was designed to put pressure on the US to put pressure on Musharraf.”

Myths enveloped the subsequent events of 2003 which culminated in the Islamabad summit; all because a crucial document was overlooked by both countries. The source of the myth is Vajpayee’s emotional declaration at a public rally in Srinagar in April 2003, where he resumed his plea for a dialogue with Pakistan “on the basis of justice and … insaniyat [humanity]”.

A little homework would have brought home the inspiration behind the volte face. It was a joint statement issued on March 27, 2003 by then US secretary of state Colin Powell and British foreign secretary Jack Straw in the wake of a summit when president George W. Bush and prime minister Tony Blair decided that enough was enough.

It prescribed for India and Pakistan a road map to the last detail: “Violence will not solve Kashmir’s problems. Pending the resolution of these problems, the LoC should be strictly respected and Pakistan should fulfil its commitments to stop infiltration across it.

Pakistan should also do its utmost to discourage any acts of violence by militants in Kashmir. Both sides should consider immediately implementing a ceasefire and taking other active steps to reduce tension including by moves within the Saarc context.”

Sure enough a ceasefire followed. And Vajpayee attended the Saarc summit in Islamabad in January 2004.

By the middle of 2004 he lost power. But he was determined to see that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not reach an accord on Kashmir with Musharraf. His letter of June 2004 to Manmohan Singh should dispel doubts: “the peace process has now become Kashmir-centric … A year ago there was a distinction between the moderates and the hardliners. Today the moderates are totally pro-Pakistan.”

Kashmir has two dimensions: external vis-à-vis Pakistan and internal. In July 2000 the Vajpayee cabinet brusquely rejected a unanimous resolution passed by Kashmir’s Assembly endorsing a report on Kashmirs autonomy. Farooq Abdullah, the chief minister, was an ally of the BJP. It spurned the Hizbul Mujahideen’s ceasefire on July 24, 2000 by offering surrender terms to the Hizb.

The ‘interlocutors’ sent to Kashmir were hardliners; like K.C. Pant in 2001 and Arun Jaitley, a Modi supporter, in 2002.

As deputy prime minister, Advani met the Hurriyat leaders. But his home ministry’s report for 2003-04 said “none of the factions enjoys popular support” and Kashmir “already enjoys autonomy”.

And in 2014, it is Narendra Modi who has delivered a coup de grace in Jammu by renewing the old BJP line. The saga continues.

The writer is an author and a lawyer.